” A picture is worth a thousand words.” Many people use this quote, but is it true? Can you really get more out of a picture than a 1000 word piece of literature? Can a picture “tell the truth” better than literate or literature “tell the truth” better than a picture or work of art? What area of knowledge can “tell the truth” the best? Knowledge gained by literature and art is gained through emotion.
The difference lies with the fact that knowledge gained by literature is also gained through language, where as that gained by art is gained through empiricism. Also, both literature and art are subjunctive to the knower, so the knowledge one person gains from a piece or literature or work or art may be different then that gained by another person who reads or sees the same thing. The truth told by these two forms of knowledge are going to be based on personal perspective. So, doesn’t that mean that both art and literature do not tell the truth, but rather evoke a truth because of their subjectivity?
First of all to define the terms, for the purpose of this essay, literature is creative writing of recognized artistic value. Literature can included poetry, prose, fiction and non-fiction. Now moving on to truth. What is the truth ? When we seek to know, we claim that we seek to know the truth, but what is the truth? Truth is often defined as conformity to fact or actuality or a statement proven to be or accepted as true. Some philosophers have been sceptics, claiming that we know nothing. This view comes from the poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Lord Byron. ” All that we know is, nothing can be known.” Does this mean that we can never know anything for certain? Or is this view just self-refuting? If all we know is nothing, how can we know that we know nothing? I do not believe this view is correct and we will not use it for the purpose of this essay.
Other ways of establishing the truth are truth as it corresponds with facts, meaning that it is true if it corresponds with fact and false if it does not. Facts are states of affairs which we actually obtain, independently of our perceptions of them, or our beliefs about them. Truth as Coherence, meaning that something is true if it is consistent will all the other propositions we hold true. Coherence theories of truth imply that statements are true if and only if they fit in with the vast interrelated systems which constitute our general view of the world. If they do not cohere with this view they are false.
There is also the truth as “what works” theory. It has been argued that the purpose of our beliefs in practice is to help us get on with life by enabling us to predict future experiences. If they succeed in doing this; they are accepted; and if they fail, they are rejected. It is true because it coheres a belief in something that works. I do not know which view is correct for there are faults in each of them.
Literature and art are interrelated in terms that both are subjective, and both considered “works of art”. A work of art can be a painting, sculpture, music or piece of literature. We have already established that they more evoke a truth than tell it but which one works better? You may say they are both universal, but it does not matter what language you speak you will still see that same picture, you may just interpret it differently. However, with a piece of literature, many things can be lost in translation, leading you to interpret it differently. Also, art can tell the truth to anyone, even those who can not read.
Can you explain things better with words than painting, sculptures or music? I feel that it depends on what it is. The truth of true love for example may be told better with a picture of the two together. Pictures often call on your emotions and let you see for yourself how the two are together. It is often harder to describe things such as true love with words. Other things however are much better explained in a long piece of literature. Therefore, it may depend on what truth you are trying to tell? Perhaps one might think of the different areas of knowledge as different musical instruments. They can all play or tell the same note, for example C sharp, but, they do it in different ways. Does it sound better on one instrument or the other? I believe not!
We also have to take into consideration the question of can truth (or even just “significance”) be better realised through your own words or those of someone else? Because with literature you are leaning the truth through the words of others, where with a work of art you are using your own words to describe the truth you are learning. I’d be tempted to say that other people’s words can bring us closer to the truth than our own for, we can only think the words available to us; a library can think words we’d never conceive of. This can also be used against literate, for the words of others are more likely to provoke angst. Art is less likely to do so. Literature allows us to see things “from the inside” and to convey things that are outside the scope of other “more objective” disciplines, but with a picture it can also be a lot like being there and we also get the “inside” view.
Next, to look at the both in some of the different areas of knowledge. Can you learn the truth about history better from literature or art’some may argue that you will understand the gist of the historical event with less bias than if you read about it in a book written by a historian. But if you are always critical and use a lot of primary documents from many different people wouldn’t you get a better understanding of the historical event? Can you imagine going to a history class, where you learn the history without literature’sure you may still learn some history, but would your ever learn nearly as much as you do from books, regardless if the information is bias or unbiased?
When acquiring knowledge in the natural sciences, you use observation, reason, and experiment. You go through a process and come up with the results yourself. If the scientist completes the experiment correctly and their hypothesis is based on facts and they do not falsify their data, then I believe the results are one of the best ways of telling the truth (or at least close to the truth), better than literature or art. The best way to pass on the information that they obtain is through literature.
Ethics has a role in both literature and art. You can learn ethics through both, however there is different codes of acceptability for each. For example, it is unethical for a person to be naked in public places, but it is perfectly fine for naked works of art to be on display in public places. If a novel expresses sexual content it is termed ” adult”. Yet no one terms the great masterpieces of Michelangelo “adult”, even those such as “The Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel. Why is it that the ethic knowledge gained from literature is hindered while that gained form art is not?
Also, there is “the science of making necessary conclusions”, in other words math. The learning process depends on agreement, and this agreement rests on pure reason. If you agree with the general concepts, it is the most simple of all the areas of knowledge, there is only one correct answer, 2 + 2 will always equal 4. Math is a universal language, with nothing lost in translation. It “tells the truth in the most simple and straightforward way. Can literature or art ever “tell the truth” better than math?
In conclusion, I do not believe that literature can not “tell the truth” better than other Arts or Areas of Knowledge. I believe that because of their subjective nature literature and art are less likely to reach the truth than the other areas of knowledge. I believe that the best ways to ” tell the truth” are through sciences and math. There is less to no room for interpretation or personal opinion. On the other hand everyone finds the truth in different places. Some find it in math calculations, some in music, some in visual arts, and others in natural sciences. We’re all different, and for many literature doesn’t quite provide what they’re looking for. For many more, however, it does. Therefore, this question comes down to a matter of personal opinion.